Soft Despotism and the Leaky State

Soft Despotism and the Leaky State

Recent unauthorized intelligence disclosures reveal our elected aristocracy's intolerable lawlessness.

In early summer’s heat, we are being distracted by a battle between the heroes of protecting intelligence and those seemingly bent on leaking it. This is an issue vital to protecting U.S. security; each leak undermines our security and makes it harder to collect intelligence, whether alone, with our allies or through short-term friends. But the way in which the sides have arrayed to do battle is pure election-year grandstanding. The question is whether the elected officials in the fray really care about U.S. security, unless you define “caring” as seeking war with Syria and Iran.

Take, for example, Senator John McCain’s warning that Obama’s leaking sycophants damage U.S. security. That is true. But recall that it was McCain who, from a position of authority, first described the CIA's rendition and harsh-interrogation programs as "torture," thereby giving political cover to Democrats who wished to undermine U.S. defense and hurt the CIA. Obama and the citizens of the world who run his party ran through the hole opened by McCain and ended the CIA’s most successful and life-saving counterterrorism program. We now have had three years of no new Al Qaeda or Islamist leaders entering the rendition program to supply data to protect U.S. lives and property.

What this fracas over leaks should say to Americans is not just that intelligence disclosures are illegal (they are); that they undermine U.S. security and put our intelligence officers, their assets, soldiers, and Marines at risk (they do); and that every leak requires more funds and officers to replace the help of foreign intelligence services who lose their taste for aiding us because of leaks (it does). What it also should say is that the routine, nonchalant leaking of intelligence also underscores what we are becoming as a nation—namely, an increasingly lawless nation governed by self-appointed, Ivy League-bred aristocrats who believe they are above the law.

This lawlessness is particularly rampant in the field of U.S. national security. Politicians wander around newsrooms bemoaning others’ leaks, but refuse to enforce the more-than-sufficient laws on the books to end leaking in short order via convictions and long sentences. Likewise, Americans have been led to war repeatedly since 1945 by leaders who believe the law is not meant for them. The U.S. Constitution may be opaque in some places, but on the issue of war it is crystalline: Only the Congress can declare and fund an American war.

“Sense of the Congress” resolutions are unconstitutional delegations of legislative power to the executive. They allow cowardly legislators to have it both ways: if the war goes well they can cheer the troops; if it goes belly up, they can savage the president and his generals.

More important, however, is that the war-making role the Founders' assigned to Congress is a block against tyranny, and there is no better definition of tyranny than the situation we have seen on many occasions—hundreds of millions of Americans taken to war at the whim of one man and his advisers while the Congress cowers. In recent decades, moreover, the growth of executive tyranny has become more repulsive and intolerable because presidents start or continue wars they do not intend to win, thereby wasting—in the name of such delusions as human rights and "just war"—the lives of thousands of our soldier-children to win the applause of the media and the grandees of the feckless, effeminate and soon-to-implode European Union.

Likewise, in the ongoing destruction being wrought on our national security, economy and social cohesion by Washington's failure to enforce border and immigration control, there is no need for new laws. There are plenty of laws that—if enforced—would control our borders and allow the orderly admission of legal immigrants. Republicans and Democrats alike have refused to obey their oath of office to enforce the law. They have treated those living in our southwestern states as lesser citizens, as if they are the Union’s shreds and tatters and not worthy of the physical protection afforded Americans in other parts of the country.

Leaked intelligence is the issue of the moment, but it is clearly clustered with the republic-destroying impact of illegal wars, open borders, tyrannical presidents and the callousness with which Washington gets our soldier-children killed. Facing these realities, Americans, as summer turns sultry, are really confronted by a much bigger and more disquieting issue than just stopping leaks. Simply put, that question is whether executive tyranny, Congress's surrender of its sole prerogatives, illegal wars and uncontrolled borders constitute a case of "oppression." That is to ask: Is the sure albeit gradual destruction of our republic's institutions, as well as its citizens’ ability to defend themselves from federal whim, negligence and foreign invasion, tantamount to the oppressive denial of nature’s first law, that of self-defense?

Earlier Americans would have identified our current condition as approaching oppression by a tyrannical government. And what would they have done? Well, we have some evidence on that score. Facing up to such oppression in 1775, a brace of men from Virginia and Pennsylvania wrote,

We are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers, or resistance by force. The latter is our choice. We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. Honour, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them. ... With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being, with one mind, resolved to die freemen rather than live slaves.

Tyranny, once born, digs in strongly, and seldom if ever peacefully returns to the people the powers it has stolen. Surely not today, but just as surely—if the lawless status quo continues or worsens—before many more years pass, Americans will have to determine if they can end the now-growing tyranny via the political process. If not, crisis will ensue.

Pray God that woeful day never comes. But if it nears, Americans desirous of reacquiring and then protecting the liberties and security they have lost would do well to read the above-quoted work of Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson. They would do even better to remember that this passage was written to allow oppressed citizens, after enduring a "long train of abuses and usurpations" that seems aimed at creating despotism, to eliminate the would-be tyrants and then "institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Michael Scheuer spent twenty-two years in the CIA and is the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism and Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama Bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of the United States. His latest book is Osama Bin Laden.